Before I start on today’s topic, I am aware that a lot of what I am about to say, you have heard before. But have you ever really let it sink in? Have you ever really HEARD it? The truth is, there is a lot of information that comes at us in a day and a lot of it we choose not to focus on. That is necessary. It is NOT possible to process the vast amount of stimuli in our environment. We focus on the relevant information. We focus on the stuff that we deem to be the most important. But whether we are focused on it or not, some information manages to sneak in and invade our subconscious mind. What am I talking about? I am talking about the media.
We all know that the media- television, radio, magazines, the internet, all social media platforms- have a huge role in how society as a whole views things like femininity, masculinity, health, wellness, beauty, etc. It also has a role in how we view ourselves. Even if we can rationally say things like “she doesn’t look like that, it’s a filter” or “if I had the money for a personal chef and trainer I would look like that too”, or “it’s not aging gracefully, she has had massive amounts of plastic surgery”, we still somehow look at all of these images and use them as a benchmark for how we are going to define our goals. The beauty and fitness industries depend on it. Plastic surgery is one of the most lucrative fields to be in because most people when asked, will tell you something about themselves that they don’t love…or even like.
Sure, there are people that don’t necessarily go to the extremes of supplements and fad diets and surgery, but even the personal training industry, for the most part, thrives off of inches lost and images of sexy men and women half naked in the gym to “motivate” the rest of us to buy a membership or hire a trainer so we can have this desired look. In recent years, restaurants have to label all menu items with calories (not nutritional value, just calories) which was supposed to be the governments way of helping people be “healthier”. How is calorie counting helping at a fast food restaurant? That’s a topic for another day.
What I really want to talk about today is how little most of us know about our body, how low on the priority list it is, and how many of us are even doing things that cause harm to it all for the sake of this mythical benchmark of beauty and “fitness” that is everywhere. Yes, even with the body positivity movement, we are still obsessed with the wrong parts of our body.
I want to focus for a moment on women. Not discounting men at all, but women definitely have much higher expectations put on them surrounding physical appearance. There is some controversy surrounding what the healthy or average body fat percentage is for a woman. According to the American Council on Exericse (ACE), an average woman should have about 25-31 percent body fat. Now that alone doesn’t tell you much. Two women with the same body fat percentage could look different to the naked eye. As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, genetics makes up a huge part of our body proportions and therefore our shape. Yet, we will still look at a photo of a fitness model who has to go through the most UNHEALTHY and restrictive diet, dehydration, and elimination of essential nutrients and FAT which is absolutely necessary to absorb many vitamins, and see her as goals. Even an Instagram model or bikini model only has about 15% body fat. So, we know that they are not AVERAGE and, in some cases, not healthy, but still, they are goals.
There is something so very backwards about this mentality. For starters, as I mentioned, for most of us to look that way we have to sacrifice our health. Now this isn’t true for everyone. There are women who are lean naturally and even without restrictive diets or excessive exercise, can have a “sexy bikini look”. But why do we want this so badly? It is not where the focus should be. Your body is the only one you will ever have, and if not taken care of now, it will fail you. I would really hate to see someone suffering in what should be their golden years, for choices that they have made now. Betty White inspired me for this. She just celebrated her 97th birthday! I will not pretend to be an expert on Betty White but I do admire how active and healthy she still seems at 97. She has had rhinoplasty in the 70’s because she too fell victim to society’s unrealistic beauty standards. She was often denied roles based on her looks and not being photogenic enough. But let’s really put this into perspective. At 97 years, if we live that long, what are we deeming as important? The only thing we will care so deeply about at that time is health. We want to have our mental health, our organs functioning, and our muscles and joints mobile enough that we can enjoy our remaining years in this life.
I know this is something we all already know. But why don’t we live this way? Well, we live busy stressful lives and we don’t have time to cook every night or go to the gym 3 times a week. But why do we see that as being healthy in the first place? Health has many facets. One which I have touched on many times is stress. We don’t ever stop, we put ourselves last, we don’t sleep enough, and we run largely on adrenaline and caffeine. But still, instead of focusing on how to decrease stress levels (which today seems to be the explanation for many physical ailments), we focus on the need to eat clean and go to the gym. Instead of focusing on feeding our body good nutritious food, and movement, in any form, we look at Instagram and say, “I don’t have 3 hours on Sunday to meal prep”, or “I don’t have time to go to the gym for an hour after work because I have to get the kids”. We have completely lost sight of the point.
We have also completely lost sight of our bodies and how amazing they are and all that they can do when they are functioning optimally. Women, I am talking to you. YOU GROW HUMANS! Why on earth do you care if you have some stretch marks or some extra skin or smile lines or bags under your eyes or breasts that are not as full as they once were? You care because all of the stimulus around you tells you that you have to care. It’s sickening. This is where the damage really occurs. When you can look at your body, which has done so many amazing things, and hate it. That causes you stress, and sadness, which in itself will push you into unhealthy habits. What we should be feeling is love. When you love something you will do everything in your power to protect it. I am speaking to myself partially here because it has been very hard for me to feel this way. I spent the first 30 years of my life “looking fit”. I wouldn’t say I was “healthy” to the highest standard but I was what was considered attractive. Now, with my 35th birthday approaching, I don’t look that way anymore. But why do we expect to?
I had a friend recently say to me “I love my body”. This friend has two kids, has the mom “pouch” and little to no breasts left after nursing. But I really believed her when she said she loved it. She has changed her lifestyle to use more natural remedies, she grows a lot of her own food, and she has taken on hobbies that bring her joy. She doesn’t look like a bikini model. But she is glowing. She is healthy. And I truly hope that she never ever lets anyone make her feel less than that. I had a client a few years back who was elderly. She said to me that all of the ads about anti aging and showing women her age wearing sports bras and running were ridiculous. She said, “Why try to stop a natural process such as aging?” At the time I had a debate with her about the physical activity being a positive but I wasn’t hearing her. Physical activity is a good thing. But being 80 and running a marathon doesn’t have to be your goal. Being 80 and being able to enjoy your grandchildren and day to day tasks with ease should be your goal. I hear her now.
This brings me to the real reason for this long-winded rant on body image. Breast implants. I recently did a podcast series on implants and all of the negative impacts they can have on a woman’s body. Here is a story that wasn’t on the podcast. Let this sink in…
A woman named Meridith Carlin First shared her story with me. She spent 17 years of her life dealing with non-stop illnesses. She suffered early menopause, migraines so bad that she was hospitalized, 6 melanomas around her breasts, autoimmune diseases, multiple co-infections, infected teeth resulting in having 7 of them removed, brain fog, depression and anxiety, and overall inflammation affecting most of her body. She told me that she spent most of her time bedridden over the last 7 years and she was even starting to refer to herself as one of Willie Wonka’s grandparents. Thankfully she had her explant surgery about 8 months ago and she says that she is finally starting to get her life back. This is only one of tens of thousands of accounts of women who got breast implants- usually because they felt their natural breasts didn’t look good enough- and have regretted it. Whether a month after the implants, or years after, all of these women started to get sick. Some have even come close to death. On February 6, 2019, the FDA finally released a statement linking breast implants to a specific type of cancer. This is just one of the many dangers of implants. Even the saline implants are in a silicone shell. Silicone breaks down in the human body (even if the implant doesn’t rupture) and causes the person’s immune system to attack it resulting in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. It is terrifying to me that these are still marketed as “safe”. Hopefully not for long.
My hope is that we can start to remember what is really important. Our bodies deserve to be treated better than our homes or cars or expensive cashmere and silk garments. You don’t need to aspire to have a six pack to be healthy. You don’t need to eat only kale. You don’t need to workout until you throw up. What you definitely don’t need is to focus so much on how you look that you ignore how you feel. Whether we like it or not, our looks will fade- just don’t let your health go with them.
Amanda Cooke, RMT